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The customer wants what the customer wants. But what is it, and how well are you doing it?


by Stacia C. Aylward, CEO, Zelos, LLC

You can find out. You can find out through:

Care. Planning. Purpose. Persistence. Positivity. And More Persistence.

It starts, of course, with care. We know that the public-sector cares very much about its customers and about how its customers interact and experience the services and products it provides. And we also know that there is always room for improvement, especially since customers are constantly changing. New people come and go; even the same people might have different needs over time; and—to top it all off—people’s desires change and expectations grow (thanks to technology, for one thing). Here, we share just a handful of approaches our clients have used—with tremendous success—to better understand and serve their customers through well-planned, purposeful, long-term efforts.

The Arlington County, Virginia Public Health Division identified customer experience as a high priority in early 2015 and created the Customer Experience Leadership Team (CELT), a team of four leaders in the Division, to first tackle some very difficult questions—namely, how do our customers feel about their interactions with Public Health?, what is it that our customers want and need from us?, and what qualities are most important to them? CELT trained public health staff to conduct empathetic interviews with customers to answer those questions, and then that staff team imggathered data directly from customers in real-time, in multiple languages. CELT analyzed and interpreted that data, and designed both a Phase I and a Phase II training for all staff, delivered over the course of one year. Throughout the project, CELT knew it was critical that everything it did was sustainable—and to make that happen, it continuously updated staff and leadership, and ultimately, created a structured Customer Experience Council, which is a larger body of staff from all bureaus within the division to carry forward its ongoing efforts to check-in with customers to ensure that they are receiving the services they need, in the way that they expressed they wanted (with empathy). Arlington County Public Health Division recently shared its Council Charter with another local government to help them achieve its goals as well.

At the Northern Virginia Community College, a new parking director wanted to make parking for students and faculty a helpful—dare we say, pleasant—experience, rather than a punitive, painful experience. With support from management, he planned and launched a well-planned customer service improvement initiative that included mystery shopping to gather baseline and ongoing monitoring data, team trainings, job aids, and more. He and the team set their goals and targets together, and they worked diligently every day, with every single phone call to change the way they helped faculty and staff. One of the many signs of the difference it made in how managers and staff approached their work was when we learned that managers were using the mystery shopping jobreports during staff meetings to celebrate the “Wows!” and to help staff know how to better respond in the few instances when customers were not satisfied. Based on the notable success with parking (faculty members would reach out to the director to say “Wow-how did you do that?”), the program was expanded and customized for the business services department.

The Town of Leesburg, Virginia has taken the LEAD in customer service. And by LEAD, we mean:  L-Leadership, E-Excellence, A-Accountability, and D-Dedication. In 2015, Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s desire was to establish a legacy of strong customer service, and he formed a team of internal ambassadors to lead that charge. The Town collaborated to develop a mission statement, commitments, a formal policy, multiple mechanisms for internal and external input and feedback, and materials for current and new employees. Today, customers can go to the website any time and submit ideas or concerns about customer service. The Town also sought a vendor who could work with them to develop and deliver a customized, long-term training program. The Town’s approach to training was unique and comprehensive. It conducted a pilot program for the ambassadors to help select its training cloudvendor; it offered all employees a foundational half-day, fully customized and interactive training session; and then it gave each department options for next training steps. Leesburg’s persistence continues; customized training sessions by department will begin in spring 2017.

So, we know you care about your customers—what they need, how you provide your services. What will help you succeed as you seek to understand and serve your customer well? We see tremendous success when our clients engage in planning first: where they define—with lots of input from leadership and staff—what they are trying to accomplish, why (purpose), over what timeframe, and who will be involved. We see tremendous success when our clients understand that changing how they work, how they approach people, what they provide (or don’t), and how others perceive them, well, changing those things require persistence, and then more persistence. And finally, we see tremendous success when our clients approach these efforts with positivity and celebrate frequently—even the smallest of successes—visibly, often, with staff, with teams, with leaders, with the community.

About Zelos: At Zelos, we facilitate discovery through customized consulting, training and coaching. We help governments and non-profits discover how to build and communicate clear strategies; how to develop and activate strong leaders; how to create and engage high-performing teams; how to deliver stellar customer experience—all so that our clients can meet their missions and achieve their visions. Specifically, we focus on these four areas: 

core areas

Our team members are experts in their fields who have distinguished careers in and around the public-sector, and we each pledge to bring fresh ideas and deliver exceptional services. When we work with you, we are doing the work we love, and it shows. Zelos is a small, woman-owned business, founded in 2006. Learn more at zelosllc.com or call us at 703-828-7831.

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